YOUR HEALTH: Keeping Zika from infecting the womb

SAN DIEGO, California – Professor Alysson Muotri never thought he'd find a potential cure for Zika in his stem cell lab at the University of California San Diego.

He started searching for a virus like Zika and he found one in early 2016.

"When we aligned the genome or the genetic material from the Hepatitis C virus and the Zika virus, we noticed that they are from the same family and they share a region that is very similar between these two," explained Professor Muotri.

It's the region the viruses use to replicate.

Muotri tested the Hepatitis C drug Sofosbuvir on brain stem cell models he calls "mini brains".

Animal tests gave the same results.

"The moms got very clean from the virus," Dr. Muotri recalled.   "There is no circulating virus in the body and as a consequence the fetuses are protected."

Dr. Miguel del Campo, a clinical geneticist at UC-San Diego, has worked with Zika moms and babies since the beginning of the epidemic.   Most research is focused on a vaccine so he's encouraged by the possibility of a treatment.

"If we can prevent infection or we can decrease the magnitude of the consequences in the baby's brain, that'll be great," said the doctor.

TREATMENT:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: "There is no specific medicine or vaccine for Zika virus."   The CDC also says you can reduce your risk of mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, and using screens on windows and doors.

Muotri knows it's early, but he's hopeful.

"The drug seems to work really nice and it is a drug that is already available. So encourage us to move on into clinical trials."

Dr. Muotri says it'll take three to four months to get access to Sofosbuvir and to start human clinical trials.   He says he's excited it's only taken two years from proving Zika caused the birth defects to starting clinical trials for a potential cure.

If this story impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.